The Frick Art Reference Library Reading Room, The Frick Collection, New York; photo: Michael Bodycomb.

 

NEW YORK - Ask any New York-based art researcher what’s on their agenda for the month of July, and a visit to the Frick Art Reference Library may just top the list. Every summer, FARL’s Reading Room makes like the nation of France and closes shop for the entire month of August. This significantly throws a wrench in the plans of any late-19th/early 20th century specialist (me) with a mammoth publication deadline in September (namely, the fall Imp & Mod Evening sale catalogue). July at the Frick is one of those rare times when the phrase “chaos at the library” can actually be used with some legitimacy. Basically, it’s like Walmart on Black Friday, but with more books and less stampedes.

The Frick Reference Library's Reading Room.


What is sending us conscientious art historians (obsessive nerds) to the Frick in such a frenzy? It depends on whom you ask. There’s been a lot of press in recent weeks about the importance of detailed provenance and authenticity research in an increasingly litigious world. Just a few months ago, the spectacular crash and fall of the Frick’s next-door neighbor, Knoedler Gallery, brought the issue to center stage in Vanity Fair. Basically, there are fakes and forgeries on the market, and reputable scholars are unwilling to go on record when calling a fake a fake. This recent New York Times article explains why, and how dealers, art historians and experts are now reluctant to get involved in the tricky business of authenticating paintings in fear of incurring a lawsuit and destroying a family fortune. And who can blame them when the stakes are so high? This is precisely what makes me extra, super careful when vetting pictures for our sales, and why getting your hands on that one annotated copy of Gazette de l’Hôtel Drouot can trigger a all-out hissy fit in the Reading Room. Consider yourself forewarned.